Carefree campaign high jinks on the home stretch

By Linda Bentley | April 29, 2009

Early ballots available at town hall
CAREFREE – When the mayor, vice mayor and a councilman, of the five incumbents running in the March Primary Election, were forced into the May runoff, they each withdrew their candidacy.

So far, it seems Carefree voters have rejected the status quo by not reelecting five of the incumbents and by voting against their ballot proposition to extend council terms to four years.

Citizens also appear poised to vote in favor of Councilman Bob Coady’s ballot initiative providing for the direct election of mayor.

Currently the mayor, who is basically the chief executive officer of the town, is selected by council and Carefree has a town administrator that works under the direct supervision of the council, as opposed to a town manager form of government where the town manager, who is appointed by council, has the authority to run the day-to-day operations of the town, as in Cave Creek.

With only four candidates remaining on the ballot for the May 19 run-off election to fill the four remaining council seats, John Traynor and Jim Peirce felt compelled to run as write-in candidates.

For those who may be unaware, a write-in candidate must also file either a Statement of Organization or $500 Threshold Exemption Statement and appropriate campaign finance reports with the town clerk, just like candidates whose names appear on the ballot.

While they don’t have to collect petition signatures, write-in candidates are at a distinct disadvantage by not having their names appear on the ballot.

Because Carefree holds all-mail elections, write-in candidates are further disadvantaged since the requirement to “post the notice of official write-in candidates in a conspicuous location within the polling place,” is pretty much moot.

Carefree’s April 14 COINS (Carefree Official Information Notification System) alert, regarding the May 19 General Election, stated, “There are four Carefree Common Council seats to be decided on May 19. The four candidates who receive the most votes will be elected to fill the four seats. There will also be a referendum question, Proposition 404, to decide if the mayor should be elected directly by the voters beginning with the 2011 council term.”

Traynor became a bit miffed when the town posted additional information on its website announcing, “There are four candidates running for four seats. They are: Bob Gemmill (incumbent), Peter Koteas, David Schwan (incumbent) and Susan Vanik.”

The website now states under the above, “There are two official write-in candidates. They are: Jim Peirce and John Traynor.

“The candidates who receive the most votes will fill the four seats.”

Traynor said many seasonal residents “bristled” when they learned ballots wouldn’t be mailed until May 4.

However, according to Maricopa County Campaign Finance Director Kristi Passarelli, ever since Carefree started holding all-mail elections in 1997, it has always opted to have ballots mailed 15 days prior to the election. She said Carefree may request ballots be mailed on another date so long as it’s no more than 33 days and no less than 15 days prior to the election.

Passarelli also said voters may cast an early ballot at town hall, citing the town clerk has already been provided with a supply of replacement ballots.

Disadvantaged as a write-in candidate, Traynor wanted to see how much and where the other candidates were spending their money and noted Carefree has posted the campaign finance reports online this year.

It appeared some candidates’ reports were missing and Traynor said an e-mail exchange between him and Town Clerk Betsy Wise revealed candidate Susan Vanik had never filed a Statement of Organization.

According to Traynor, she hadn’t filed a $500 Threshold Exemption Statement either, although she would have been required, by statute, to file one or the other before receiving any donations, making any expenditures or collecting signatures.

However, Traynor later learned all the 2009 candidates’ original Statements of Organization and $500 Threshold Exemption Statements, including Vanik’s, were scanned to create one 14-page document in December, which is posted online as a single PDF file titled: “2009 Carefree Town Council Candidate Campaign Finance Information All Candidates.”

Although Vanik did indeed file a $500 Threshold Exemption Statement on Nov. 24, 2009, according to her Post-Primary Election Report filed on March 31, 2009 for the period Feb. 19 through March 30, Vanik’s campaign received and spent $793.25, exceeding the $500 exemption on Feb. 23, 2009.

A.R.S. 16-902.01 requires candidates to file a Statement of Organization no later than five business days after exceeding the $500 threshold.

Accordingly, Vanik should have filed her Statement of Organization no later than March 2.
Wise contacted Vanik and told her she needed to file a Statement of Organization. Vanik immediately complied.

Since Vanik didn’t go over the $500 until the post-primary reporting period, she missed no other reporting requirements.

Passarelli indicated Vanik could be fined for the late filing, although she laughed at the suggestion the offense was serious enough to invalidate Vanik’s candidacy.

However, A.R.S. 16-918(B) states a candidate “is liable for a late penalty of ten dollars for each day after failure to make or file a campaign finance report … up to a maximum of $450” and says, “The filing officer shall not accept a campaign report unless any penalties owed … are paid with the report.”

Statute seems to indicate Wise should have charged Vanik a $450 late fee at the time she submitted her Statement of Organization 51 days late.

Traynor subsequently contacted Passarelli by e-mail about his concerns, and wrote, “I am deeply disappointed in our system … I thought I understood the law, including the statute you highlighted for me this morning; the meaning of the word ‘before’ has always been clear to me.”

He also stated this was not the first instance of “funny business” in Carefree. And, while Traynor says he is more than willing to accept the will of the voters, he is not willing to accept candidates or election officials breaking the rules and then trying to cover up.

Traynor said, “We will never have clean elections in this country if we can’t keep them clean at this level.”